Visit to the Oxfordshire Museums Resource Centre: May 2023

The society recently arranged a fascinating visit to the Oxfordshire Museums Resource Centre, a large purpose-built, tent-like structure near Standlake. Here a group of society members were able to enjoy a couple of hours hosted by Christiane Jeuckens , who is the Collections Officer for the Oxfordshire Museums Service.

The Resource Centre is normally open to the public by appointment only, but WHLS members were given the opportunity to enjoy a special guided tour.

During the afternoon we learned about the role of the centre to preserve important artefacts, in the areas of archaeology and of social history. The centre houses 100,000+ items large and small, from Neolithic times to recent history. Just two examples we saw were the tombstone of Oxfordshire’s first named inhabitant (a retired Roman soldier ) and an early 18th century wooden blanket loom made from local timber.

Th group had a lively time wandering among the stacks, viewing pictures, photographs, farm implements large and small, domestic appliances, musical instruments, stone carvings. There was much indeed to take in.

The group was delighted to find that Christiane had lined up some particularly Wychwoods-relevant items for us to view, including the much-treasured Shipton Serpent, late of St. Mary’s Church but now housed in the Centre.

A facinating afternoon, and one well worth recommending to friends for a future group visit.

The Resource Centre: Website here

English Almshouses (Ancient and Modern) : Our November 2022 Evening Talk

Members and guests gathered for our last talk of the year. This was a lively look at the history, philosophy and evolution of almshouses, as well as an informative description of the work of the Almshouse Association today.

Shipton resident Peter Wilkinson regaled us with a finely constructed talk, copiously illustrated with many examples of almshouse projects undertaken in various parts of the UK. Peter is a retired chartered buildings surveyor and is currently active as an Almshouse Association Panel Consultant. He brought a a wealth of detailed knowledge of his subject.

Almshouses in Witney : Church Green

Many of us have the common perception of almshouses as a picturesque row of cottages, a reminder of a past age. As such they seem of little relevance in a modern welfare state – but we quickly learned of the scope involved, with 1,660 Almshouse Charities managing over 30.000 dwellings for upwards of 36,000 people – with buildings old and new.

Almshouses: Definition and History

Peter took us through the outline history of the founding and development of the almshouse phenomenon. It all started with the Synod of Aix in 816 A.D which gave monasteries the obligation to distribute alms. Usually in the form of food, clothing, medicine, sometimes money. But also, it could involve board and lodging – and it has been from this element that the almshouses come into being.

The Role of the Monasteries

Monks had always looked after their own sick or old brothers in an area known as the Farmery. The term “infirmary” is derived from this. In the 12th & 13th centuries hospitals within the monastery took over from the Farmery with their own Hall & Chapel. They catered for travellers and began to help poor and infirm lay people, giving alms as board and lodging.

But gradually the practice of ministering to lay people at the monastery hospital ceased and separate hospitals were built – for hospitality not medical provision – away from the monastery.

In the monasteries, alms were given out by the ‘Almoner’, the manorial official or monk appointed to collect and distribute them to the poor. Often the alms were dispensed from an almonry, a special room by the church. Gradually the custom of providing board and lodging for travellers developed, usually in the outer court of the monastery.

Fountains Abbey : Farmery Model

Peter’s talk took us through the various iterations of hospitality provision and into the concept of almshouses as we understand them today. He described how through history the monastic Farmery was extended in scope to become the mediaeval hospital for sick and later for elderly poor people.

That in time developed into what we now know as almshouses, moving away from the “hospital” concept and into the world of “hospitality”.

Almshouses Today

Abingdon : Long Gallery
At Chalfont St.Peter – Modern Almshouses

We learned that almshouses tend to be characterised by their charitable status and by the aim of supporting the continued independence of their residents.  Peter took us through an extraordinary set of images, describing almshouse projects associated with the work of trustees – many of these involving very creative discussions with developers for new-build almshouses and refurbished older buildings.

Extraordinary Developments – A Surprise to Many….

Crucially, and a surprise to many of us, there is an important distinction between almshouses and other forms of sheltered housing.

Almshouse residents have no security of tenure, being solely dependent upon the goodwill of the 3 administering trustees. Thus, occupants are always referred to as residents, never as tenants. No rent is paid, but rather a weekly maintenance contribution which is like rent but different in law, and perhaps 60-70% of commercial rates.

 Most almshouse residents today will be of retirement age, of limited financial means but we also learned that, these days, young families qualify for almshouse residences.

The Almshouse Association: Guiding Principles

The Almshouse Association assists charities to build, modernise and update almshouse dwellings. These projects provide 21st century living in many properties across the UK, and Peter outlined the challenges faced, especially where properties have listed status or where – as is often the case – funds are limited or lacking.

The Almshouse Association ensures that residents have dignity, freedom and independence to live their lives as they see fit within a safe and secure environment. Almshouses are considered homes for life – care packages provided by social services when residents need additional help.

 Over 400 wardens or scheme managers are employed by the larger almshouse charities. Some of larger charities offer extra care and even residential care. But the general position is that almshouse residents should be capable of independent living for the rest of their lives.

The society is grateful to Peter for his time and expertise, and indeed for the provision of images and texts to help with this short overview of an enjoyable evening for all.

The Hartley Family: Sporting Siblings and Brothers in Arms

2022 marks 100 years since the Hartley brothers from Shipton under Wychwood arrived together on the international sporting stage. Their their lives – as well as the sporting lives their sisters – are celebrated in a recent article published online on the Playing Pasts sporting history website.

The article is written by Bill Williams, former Head of Physical Education and sport at Burford school. Bill writes in fascinating detail of the careers of this illustrious sporting family, from early Burford schooldays and onwards. Burford was a pioneer in the promotion of Association Rules Football, and the boys excelled. But cricket were also played to high standard, and the Hartley boys were firmly in the mix, setting themselves up for successful sporting careers in their chosen disciplines. In addition to the boys playing football and cricket, the elder brother Ernest was selected to play for England at field hockey. 

The brothers, on horseback as part of The Oxfordshire Yeomanry in 1914

Bill’s article covers the sporting achievements of each family member, and at the same time takes us through the challenges facing each of them through two world wars. We learn a great deal about the life and times of those pursuing a sporting career in the face of historical changes.

For example , we read “As war broke out in 1914, Tom, Ernest and Frank joined the Army, while William joined the Merchant Navy; Richard stayed at home to run the family farm, which during times of conflict, was a reserved occupation and vital to the war effort. The three brothers joined The Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, which formed part of The Oxfordshire Yeomanry and by the start of the twentieth century, had reached regimental strength. As a reserve regiment, the Hussars were often granted permission to conduct drills and exercises on the extensive grounds at Blenheim Palace. Thus, as a young boy, Winston Churchill often witnessed the summer cavalry training camps in which he would later take part in as a grown man, rising to the rank of Major and commanding the Henley squadron, the rank he maintained until 1924”.

Richard, Ernest and Frank in later life

The society is pleased to been able to contribute in some small way to Bill’s extensive research, and we recommend members and visitors to visit Bill’s article here.

More on the Hartley Heritage can be discovered in our 2001 Journal here

About Bill Williams
Bill was Head of Physical Education and sport at Burford school in Oxfordshire, from 1987- 2019. Since retiring in 2019, he has spent time researching the sporting history of the school and beyond.

On This Day in Oxfordshire: Our October 2022 Evening Talk

On This Day In Oxfordshire

For our October talk, historian and writer Julie Ann Godson took us through some fascinating snapshots of lives and events in Oxfordshire through the centuries.

This talk, based on Julie Ann’s book “On This Day in Oxfordshire” (2019), offered us an intriguing concept. The concept is simply that something interesting, fascinating, disturbing or enlightening will have happened in Oxfordshire on any particular calendar date in history.

From Kaisers to ne’er do wells, from royalty to rock stars, from celebrations to disasters, Julie Ann’s research offers a lively window on life in our county.

Among the examples she gave, the Wychwood villages were a prominent focus, as we were presented a single example date in each calendar month.

For January she chose the 10th when, on this day in 1939, 25 Basque refugee children arrived at Saint Michael’s house in Shipton under Wychwood. She described the mixed reception from the clergy at the time but also the welcoming spirit of the local people who raised funds to provide things such as outings to the seaside.

On This Day in Oxfordshire: Some Highlights

For the month of May she chose the 23rd May 1887 and a sad event involving a feuding married couple which resulted in a somewhat grisly murder of the poor wife, witnessed amongst others by Alfred Groves of the eponymous Milton under Wychwood building firm. The perpetrator, one Robert Upton, having spent the day working at Shipton Court, was the worse for wear after a drinking session at the Shaven Crown. In illustrating this event, Julie Ann showed an image of the location: in the street at the junction of Shipton Road and the High Street.

Julie Ann’s book contains more than one story of World War II aircraft crashes. Particular to Milton, the crash of a Wellington Mark II at Lower Farm was the event Julie Ann chose for September. This happened on the 16th of that month in 1942, and the story of the personal heroism of a 17-year-old lad Ron Dale was a humbling tale indeed.

The Shaven Crown had another mention for the month of December. On the 7th of this month in 1943, Diana and Oswald Mosley began their time of house arrest there. We were reminded that, although there was certainly a denial of liberty, the terms of the house arrest seemed somewhat lenient. Family members were also accommodated and some eminent visitors allowed, and excursions of up to 7 miles from the building were sanctioned.

These are just a few of the dates which Julie Ann covered. The fact that there are 365 such stories for locations all over Oxfordshire – the tip of the iceberg, some might say – makes for a novel way indeed to remind ourselves of the breadth and depth of the world of Local History!

About Julie Ann Godson

Julie Ann studied modern history at the University of Oxford. She now lives in rural Oxfordshire ad makes regular appearances to talk about her research.

Her website is here

The Medway Queen: Our September 2022 Evening Talk

The Medway Queen

The society’s first evening talk for the 2022/3 season was by Medway Queen enthusiasts Mark and Pam Bathurst, who had travelled all the way from Margate to be with us.

The Medway Queen is the last estuary paddle steamer in the United Kingdom, and the full story of her design, build, civilian and war services unfolded before us in Mark and Pam’s impressive multimedia presentation.

We learned that the Medway Queen initially entered service as a pleasure vessel to provide shuttle services between Chatham and other Medway towns to Southend in 1924. With occasional excursions elsewhere she served on the same route until the beginning of the Second World War.

She was then requisitioned for the Royal Navy in 1939 and converted for mine-sweeping and remained an active minesweeper until late 1943 and was later repurposed as a minesweeping training vessel for the rest of the war.

Significantly, and a main focus of Mark and Pam’s presentation, was the part played by the Medway Queen in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of allied troops from the Dunkirk beaches. We learned of the heroism of the ship and her crews as they made seven return trips across the channel, rescuing upwards of 7,000 men and in the process managing to shoot down 3 enemy aircraft.

c. The Medway Queen Preservation Society

After the war, the Medway Queen was refitted and returned to civilian services in 1946/7, but by the early 1960s paddle steamers such as the Medway Queen were competing with more modern vessels and eventually she was taken out of service in 1963.

From here we learned of the struggles to preserve the memories represented by the Medway Queen, with several failed attempts to secure her preservation before she was bought by a consortium in 1965 to become a night club and restaurant – The Medway Queen Club – on the Isle of Wight. By the early 1980s the club had folded, the vessel itself suffered some hull damage, and was brought back in rather poor shape to the River Medway.

With a sinking and other narrow escapes from the scrapyard, the Medway Queen was rescued by the formation of the current Medway Queen Preservation Society in 1985. The Society later became owners of this historic vessel.​​

We learned of the dedicated efforts of the society to rebuild the ship’s hull (2013) and establish a base and workshop at Gillingham Pier, where the Medway Queen can be visited today. This has been achieved by the securing of substantial National Lottery funding, and from contributions from the European Regional Development Fund. Also, of course, from the dedicated efforts of volunteers in the Medway Queen Preservation Society including those of Mark and Pam who work hard to tell the story, and did well to bring it to us for this enjoyable evening, sometimes with sobering reminders of wartime upheavals but always entertaining and informative.

See more about the Medway Queen on YouTube

… and more about the Medway Queen can be found here.

Membership Applications and Renewals

Membership for 2022/23 is still open. Please get in touch to see how we can accommodate you for the current year.

Please download the Renewal/Application Form here

The annual cost remains £15 per person or £20 per couple.  

Here are some other choices, and how to pay:

Directly by BACS into the WLHS bank account – full details on the application form, which you can download, complete, scan and send to us by email

Or by post (paying by BACS or by Cheque if you prefer) to

Janet Wiltshire
WLHS Treasurer
4 Shipton Road
Milton under WYchwood

Any questions? Please contact us

We look forward to welcoming you to our new season of events.

Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Our February 2022 Evening Talk

Wychwoods Local History Society Eveing Talk

Our February 9th 2022 evening talk was held in the village hall, with a lively attendance of 45+ members and guests. Our speaker, Stephen Barker looked at the impact on, and connections to Oxfordshire during the Second World War.

Questions and feedback observations were lively among the group, and as seems now typical, we had to end our evening with a feeling that there was much more in our collective memories to recall. Perhaps another time?

Oxfordshire during the Second World War: Summary

Reflecting on the fact that it is now 80 years since key moments in the Second World War – Alamein for example, and the fall of Singapore – Stephen took an approach which was based on “impressions” around some key topics, and made very interesting use of a combination of still images and video/audio clips as part of this idea.

So we heard for example, Chamberlain’s 3rd September 1939 address to the nation that “we are at war with Germany”, and we heard Anthony Eden’s announcement of the formation of the Local Defence Volunteers, specifically to address the ever present threat of invading troops landing by parachute.

Thus the talk evaluated the ‘home front’ and also many other significant events in which Oxfordshire people were involved. Amongst other things, it touched on evacuation, POWs, airfields, refugees, everyday life, rationing, war work, as well as D-Day, Pegasus Bridge, and the Liberation of Bergen Belsen.

Beginnings of War

Having set the scene for the beginnings of war, we heard personal stories of individual children who were part of the throng of evacuees who came from London on the very day that war was declared. These were moving stories of separation, where children had often not been told of the reasons for them being uprooted from their families.

London WW2 Evacuees arriving at Chipping Norton
The arrival of teachers and children from West Ham at Chipping Norton station on 1 September 1939, with gas masks and labels. See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The Home Guard in Oxfordshire

In discussion of the Home Guard, it was clear that the response to the call from the men of Oxfordshire exceeded expectations, and thousands applied to be part of initiative. Thames bridges, and particularly the Oxford Canal were a stop line of defence in case of a channel invasion, and so needed to be manned and defended at all costs. And of course, airfields such as those at Abingdon, Brize Norton and Benson were all to be protected, patrolled and managed.

Bombs and Raids

We had several pictorial illustrations of the effect of bombing in the county. Upwards of 4,000 bombs fell in total with 20 deaths, including the infamous October 1940 Dornier raid on the railway and gasworks in Banbury where 6 men were killed, and much damage caused. We were reminded of the target, which was Banbury’s aluminium processing factory where up to 60% of the war effort’s requirement for Spitfire and Lancaster airframes were fulfilled. To confuse the enemy, a complete dummy replica of these works was made some way out of town.

Industry, Factories and Munitions

The importance of the Metal and Produce Recovery plant at Cowley was an eye-opener for some [Interesting BBC archive here: Memories of the Home Front in Oxford ].

As well as repairing stricken aircraft to get them flying again, Cowley also had vast spaces dedicated to recycling and cannibalising wrecked aircraft, and also had its pressed steel factory as part of the Nuffield complex.

Women at War

The role of Oxfordshire women in the war years was also illustrated, including images of “Make do and Mend”, knitting circles and domestic workers, as well of course as the role of Land Girls. Some discussion around the portrayal of Land Girls in the 1990s novel by Angela Huth and its associated movie, which focussed on the love lives of these women. This may or may not have been authentic or realistic!

Land Army Activity WW2
Dorothy Treweeke on a tractor outside Hill Crest, Bruern Road (1944). See also our “That’s How it Was” Publication here

The important work of World War Two women is encapsulated in the example which Stephen gave of Mary Ellis, born Mary Wilkins on 2 February 1917, in Leafield, who was one of a group of women who delivered Spitfire aircraft from factory to their squadron headquarters.

Prisoners of War in Oxfordshire

With over a half million prisoners of war in the country, Oxfordshire had its fair share. We heard stories of children accompanying POWs to work in the fields, and of a group of Italians tasked to build their own POW camp. Several members of our audience had their own stories of growing up with domiciled POWs who had married and settled to life in Oxfordshire village, and indeed stories of American GIs who were dealing with the culture shock of “two nations divided by a common language”.

Military Adventures and Engagement

Finally, the role of the Oxfordshire military was illustrated by two important engagements. On 6 June 1944, Pegasus Bridge was the objective of members of D Company, 2nd (Airborne) Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. This was a glider-borne force who were part of the 6th Airlanding Brigade of the 6th Airborne Division during Operation Tonga in the opening minutes of the D-Day Allied invasion of Normandy. The successful capture of the bridges played an important role in limiting the effectiveness of a German counter-attack in the aftermath of the Normandy invasion.

Meanwhile, a sobering note was the reminder that the first British military unit to go into Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945 was the 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Celebrations and Aftermath

Stephen’s talk ended with illustrations of VE-Day celebrations and a reminder of the many remaining artifacts and evidence of wartime activities which abound in the county, including pillboxes, Anderson shelters and the still substantial remains of Finmere Airfield near Bicester. These reminders were echoed by the observations by several audience members of their own memories of now gradually disappearing mementos of a wartime landscape.

About Stephen Barker

Stephen is an independent Heritage Advisor who works with museums, universities, and other heritage organisations to design exhibitions and make funding applications.

He worked at Banbury Museum and Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. Stephen has delivered projects for University of Oxford, Oxford Brookes University, and the Battlefields Trust. He delivers presentations and tours related to the First World War and British Civil Wars. He is a Trustee of the Bucks Military Museum Trust, the Old Gaol, Buckingham and is an Arts Council Museum Mentor. He is the author of ‘Lancashire’s Forgotten Heroes’ – the 8th East Lancs in the Great War.

More about Stephen here:

The Development of Primitive Methodism: October 2021 Talk

The society’s first talk of the 2021/22 season was held in the Village Hall – our first opportunity to meet socially since early 2020 and the beginning of the Covid restrictions. An attendance of 25+ made for an enjoyable gathering. The speaker was David Young on the subject of the founding and development of Primitive Methodism in the 19th Century.  The success of the evening was demonstrated by the fact that we ran out of time before we ran out of questions – a sure sign that the group had been fully engaged.

Though David’s focus was on the growth of the movement in Northern Hampshire, the story is one which certainly influenced life in villages throughout the country. In our case, the Primitive Methodists established a firm foothold in the Wychwoods area from the 1830s onwards, their main local chapel being built in Milton in 1834, followed by the new chapel of 1860, still standing in The Square. In 1851 their regular weekly attendance was reported to be 110 people. For nearly 100 years they were a significant feature of life in our area; there were also Primitive Methodist Chapels locally in Lyneham, Fifield, Chilson, Churchill, Burford, Charlbury and Chipping Norton.

David’s talk charted the character of the Primitive Methodist movement, summarising the influence of leading preachers – male and female – as he did so. We learned that Primitive Methodism broke out from within Wesleyan Methodism. Its birthplace was in an area on the Staffordshire and Cheshire borders. A day-long open-air meeting of prayer and preaching took place on Sunday 31st May on a hill called Mow Cop, and it is generally accepted that this was the starting point from which all else followed. Dramatic and charismatic in style, the effects of such “camp meetings” as they were called disturbed the Wesleyan authorities. When such meetings proliferated in other locations, the movement was disowned and so became separated from the parent body.

Additionally, we learned that government authorities were wary of such gatherings and their effects – this after all was an age which had seen uprisings and the politics of revolution at home and abroad, and such large and impassioned gatherings were looked on with concern. Leading preachers, we learned, were John Ride, Thomas Russell, Edward Bishop, all of whom were imprisoned for their preaching.

John Ride “The Apostle of Berkshire”
Thomas Russell who with John Ride was largely responsible for the spilling over of the movement from Berkshire and Hampshire to Oxfordshire

This was evangelical Methodism and true revival, with many conversions especially (in Hampshire) among agricultural labourers, the word ‘primitive’ denoting their intention to be loyal to the original (that is primitive) Methodism of John Wesley.

The revival movement spread from Mow Cop to Wiltshire and Berkshire into Hampshire, first in the Bourne Valley, then to Micheldever, near Winchester and (from Reading) the Silchester area.

Progress into Hampshire developed from the establishment of “Circuits”. These were focal points of evangelical activity, exemplified on the Berkshire/Hampshire border by the Great Shefford Circuit in 1831 which was the centre of 60 “preaching places” – often homes or barns – and could count almost 1300 followers by 1833. A major highlight of the expansion Eastwards and Southwards was an 1834 camp meeting at Micheldever, which attracted 5-6,000 people and which was a beacon which established the Basingstoke Circuit, a circuit in which Elizabeth Smith was firmly involved, one of many named female preachers of the times.

Oakley Hampshire a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel
Oakley Hampshire: a typical Primitive Methodist village chapel

David’s talk took us through images of the many chapels which were built to house the growing congregations in villages he had personally visited, and demonstrated often with good humour, the character of the work carried out in these places.

Much more of the history of Primitive Methodism can be found in the links below, and we are grateful to David for making the trip from Wrexham to present us with an interesting and absorbing history of 19th century non-conformism.

Further Information

David Young’s Website on Primitive Methodism

Youtube Video example here

Book Review: Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney – A Parish History

Quintessential Oxforshire Villages

Published in March this year, a new book by the Aston History Group has come to our attention, as an exemplary historical overview of the Ozfordshire villages of Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney. A4 size with 210 pages and more than 300 photographs and illustrations (many in colour), this is an eminently readable volume which demonstrates rigorous research in an accessible format.     

There are some interesting parallels with the Wychwoods area. Once primarily agricultural in character, the Aston, Shifford, Cote and Chimney hamlets were administered by the main parish at Bampton (just as Shipton was the main parish for Wychwoods area for many years). Aston got its own Anglican church (quite a monumental thing) in 1839 (funded locally and by The Church Commissioners). Milton acquired its Anglican church in 1853. The Aston hamlets have a strong Baptist history – as does our area, and the enclosures came quite late to them as it did for us in the Wychwoods.

“A Parish History” includes details which reflect the patterns and concerns of community life, mirrored in own Wychwoods villages over time. In particular, the special features on religion and agriculture cover social and economic developments that followed national trends.     

In 16 chapters and 8 appendices, fully indexed, all aspects of life are covered in an easily accessible way. Here is a short outline:    


The first two chapters cover some archaeological research which places the parish in the context of the sweep of history from Palaeolithic times through to the arrival of the Romans, and on to the Anglo-Saxons and finally the Norman Conquest. Highlighting for example, the Neolithic causewayed camp near Chimney, the Iron Age farmstead excavations at Shifford, the Shifford Sword, the key moments and artefacts around the late Saxon politics including Alfred the Great and onwards – there is much to inspire. These chapters end with Leofric’s Charter = a late Saxon document which mentions Aston and Chimney.  The charter places the villages in the hands of the of the Bishop of Exeter, a situation confirmed at the Norman conquest and continuing until the 18th Century.           

Two later chapters in the book are devoted specifically to the origins and key developments of the villages of Shifford and Chimney, again with lavish illustrations using maps, photos and diagrams.    

Farming and Enclosure     

The chapter on agriculture describes the changing landscape precipitated by the Enclosures Act finalised in 1855, the culmination of a process which had affected parishes throughout the country for a considerable period. Aston’s enclosures were sealed in 1852 and were among the last to be affected. Described in some detail are the earlier “open fields” systems operating at least since the 13th century, with later records of names and activities as well as example field plans.     

Of particular interest is the establishment by 1593 of a group of parishioners called The Sixteens, elected annually, who oversaw the regulation of farming activity – and so uniquely outside of direct Manorial control which was the normal pattern. The research covers in some detail the post-enclosure life on the land and the effects of the Corn Laws, agricultural depression, and the activities of the Agricultural Labourers Union, familiar to students of life in the Wychwoods in those times. This chapter ends with fine images of the changes which continued in farming practice during the 20th century, with several anecdotes around the introduction of mechanisation.    

Trades, Occupations, Services and Shops    

This chapter includes a panoply of images of early to mid-20th Century working life. Thatchers, Carpenters, Blacksmiths, Aston Wood Yard and the Wagon Works are all covered. Maltsters, Tanners, Brickmakers and many more are described, with photographs which highlight a thriving community at work.          

The Poor    

The chapter on poverty and need throws up a great deal of interesting detail on how many parishioners made provision in their wills for the poor and needy. Examples are given, as well as descriptions of charitable trusts and friendly societies. Of course, as throughout the country, the parish was the provider of last resort, either through the workhouse system, or through “poor relief” to supplement low wages.     

A fascinating picture is built up of the developments around assistance for the poor. This includes the arrival of Friendly Societies, including Aston’s Slate Club which was the last of the Friendly Societies to operate before the gradual changes brought about by an emerging welfare state from the early 20th century. Charming to see is a picture of and elderly couple, dressed in their best clothes – the first couple in Aston to draw the Old Age Pension.    

Law and Order    

Several examples are given of cases of varying criminal severity to show the various levels of misdemeanour tried in Petty Sessions, Quarter Sessions or Assize courts. A picture emerges of a law-abiding parish, with the main crimes linked to poverty. Included in the discussion of law and order is a short synopsis of its funding and development over the centuries, culminating in the creation of a national police force and the installation of Aston’s first police constable in 1857.                     


Images of transport through the years include maps, drawings of river transport including flash locks and river barges. The mobility or otherwise of parishioners is examined, with notes of bus transport and the coming of the railways.                    


We learn that surprisingly there was no dedicated parish church for the villages, and worshippers for the most part went to services in Bampton before the building of St James Church from 1839. Mapped onto a discussion on Wycliffe’s Bible, the development of non-conformist faith is well covered. An outline of non-conformist activity from the mid-17th century and earlier gives a picture a diversity of religious worship and practice, which can be understood as a function of the looser Manorial control alluded to in the chapter on agriculture and farming. Several pages are dedicated to the building of the parish church and describe its highlights.                   

Education & The Aston Training School    

The development of school and education facilities from the mid-1700s to the present day is covered. There are plenty of illustrations, photos and discussions around the challenges all villages faced over the financing and structure of regular school facilities, These affected the poor as well as the better off. Particularly interesting are direct quotations from the reports of school inspectors over time, and anecdotes of some interesting behaviour amongst pupils. Jane Clarke’s training school for girls in service has its own chapter. This establishment, created in the late 19th century, became well-known as a training centre for girls otherwise ill-equipped for the rigours and skills of life in service.    


A lively chapter featuring the panoply of leisure activities to be had in the past 150 years are covered, including Aston Feast and the annual cherry fairs, plus of course activities around the public houses and organised singing and dancing. Copiously illustrated with memorabilia images, there is plenty of material around the several Coronation and Jubilee celebrations in the villages. Many photos of more recent events, especially sports and river-based activities make for an entertaining profile of village life.    


The changing needs and fashions which caused alterations and extensions to buildings over the years is the subject of a chapter which also illustrates a timeline of village expansion and infill. This reflects the lived experience of villages throughout the country. Here, the various housing types are described and illustrated with reference to available local building materials. An inventory is included of the many Listed properties in the four villages.    

The Parish at War 

Common ground with the Wychwoods is found with the descriptions of events around the arrival of Basque refugees in Aston during the Spanish Civil war, as well as the in-depth descriptions of World War II evacuees, activities and privations, which reflect those described in our own publication “That’s How It Was”. Also covered are the effects and key events of the English Civil War, echoes of the Napoleonic Wars and of course the Great War.     


These are – as is the whole publication – well-researched. In particular, the war memorial biographies of the fallen are expressive of a felt gratitude. Sections on population changes as well as lists of incumbent head teachers and ministers of religion over time are carefully recorded. We are even given a full list of the pub landlords past and present in the villages.    

There is much to recommend this beautifully researched parish history. It reads as a fascinating story but is also a valuable reference tool for those who love and value the story of English village life.    

DB / JB October 2021

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Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney: A Parish History

Milton’s Unusual Wooden Carving

This amusing article, taken from the Wychwood Magazine where it appeared some years ago, highlights the unusual wooden carving removed during the old Mission Room renovations in Milton.

The intriguing figure will feature in the Society’s 40th Anniversary celebrations, re-scheduled for May 2022.

We plan to publish a detailed study of this wooden carving, which we like to call “The Milton Angel” in due course. Meanwhile, a special feature by John Bennett here includes some more information about the carving. John’s article highlights the fact that this angel carving is just one of the pantheon of Milton sculptured figures.

Go Figure!
Bernard Shaw once received a letter addressed to a Mr B Shawm. In great annoyance he complained to his wife that there was not even a word shawm. Mrs Shaw, one of the World’s most martyred women, quietly took the dictionary from the shelf, looked up the word and showed the definition to her husband – “shawm – an old fashioned wind instrument”.

Angel Musician wooden carving: front view and side views
Angel Musician front view and side views.
Go here for more on this and other Milton sculptures

Our Shawm
The great Irish playwright would probably therefore have been at a loss to describe accurately the wooden figure pictured here which has been serenading Milton for decades.

This carving of a priest or possibly angel blowing a shawm has stood largely unnoticed in a niche on the gable end of what is known as the Mission Room in Milton High Street. The building has had various uses over the years including a reading room, a bank, a dentist and Barry Way’s office.

The owners of the site, Groves the builders, have recently (2006) been renovating the property and brought the figure down from its rather exposed shelter.

They realised that it could be of some artistic and historic importance and called in Sue Jourdan, Chairman of the Wychwood Local History Society. The first expert Sue consulted was of the opinion that the figure is “fascinating, rare and complex”.

The 22 inches high figure is believed to date from the 15th century and possibly came from Shipton’s parish church.

from an article by Alan Vickers
First published: The Wychwood October/November 2006 Vol. 27 No4